Last Saturday’s Special Election, which saw 18 percent of the voters give 100 percent of homeowners a hefty tax increase, brought back a hazy memory from about 40 years ago. 

As a member of the Board of Assessors in the 1980s, Paul Faler was a fierce advocate for residential taxpayers. As I recall it, Paul narrowly lost re-election one year, and the next year he ran again in an attempt to return to the Board.  

At a Wakefield League of Women Voters candidates’ night, he was asked, if he lost a second time, would he run again the following year as the taxpayers’ voice. Paul smiled at the question.  

“At some point,” he said, “people have to save themselves.” 

What’s surprising about the recent Special Election is not so much that the high school question won. I predicted that. What’s jaw-dropping is that for about 15,000 local voters the question of whether or not to build a new high school and raise the average homeowner’s taxes by about $1,300 a year was not even on their radar.    

The town bent over backwards to make voting easy, scheduling the election on a Saturday and offering citizens weeks of no-questions-asked absentee voting. And still, less than 20 percent of the voters supported building a new high school. Three-quarters of registered voters couldn’t have cared less one way or the other. It didn’t matter enough for them to even cast a ballot. 

Inspiring message, Yes for WMHS. 

The next time you hear someone complain about taxes in Wakefield, ask them how they voted in the March 11, 2023 Special Election. The odds are 3-1 that the answer will be, “I didn’t.” 

Some people are old enough to remember TAW. It stood for “Taxpayers Association of Wakefield.” A few short decades ago, Wakefield had populist figures like Sam Benedetto, Paul Faler, Phil Porter, Mike Conley and Phyllis Hull to speak and organize on behalf of residential taxpayers.  

But they’re all gone now, either deceased or moved out of town. 

In their place we have those who want to remake Wakefield into Wellesley – or at least Winchester or Lexington. Not so very long ago, being a townie was considered a big advantage in local politics. Now, there isn’t a single Wakefield native on the Town Council.   

That would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. But the town has changed. Despite all the lip service from local officials about “affordable” housing, many middle and lower-income residents find themselves squeezed out of Wakefield by high home prices and soaring taxes. And there’s an endless supply of upwardly mobile young professionals of means waiting to swoop in and fill the void. Among the Blossoms at the Beebe set, Wakefield natives are something of a curiosity, an endangered species to be studied before its inevitable extinction. 

Don’t get me wrong. Most of my favorite Wakefield residents weren’t born here. But they tend to be people who arrived years ago because they liked living in a well-run, affordable, middle-class town. They didn’t come here looking to change it into an upscale People’s Paradise. 

If you’re a beleaguered taxpayer, don’t expect a lot of sympathy from your elected leaders. 

The next chairman of the Wakefield Town Council was one of the biggest donors to the “Yes for WMHS” campaign. The Committee to Elect Jonathan Chines gave $1,000 to the cause and Chines made personal donations totaling $350.   

This is the same Jonathan Chines who recently pushed a measure through the Town Council that virtually guarantees that, going forward, the town will increase the property tax levy by the maximum allowed under Proposition 2½.Chines’ measure will make it much more difficult for future boards to offer taxpayers a break by increasing the tax levy less than the full 2.5 percent allowed by law, as the Selectmen did every year from 2014-2019.  

Those days are gone forever.  

They’ve been traded in for a future of bike lanes, solar panels, high-end schools and higher taxes.